Regenerating Rural Soils- Midwest Soil Health Summit 2
This is part two of the Midwest Soil Health Summit blog series.
Gabe Brown of Brown’s Ranch in Burleigh County, N.D gave the keynote address, which focused on how producers can regenerate conventionally farmed soils. Gabe dove into the effect that conventional monoculture has on soils and suggested that the future of farming needs a different way of thinking about the soil.
“As producers we’ve come to accept the degraded resource [soil]. We need to realize that we need to regenerate those resources.” –Gabe Brown
Conventional Monoculutre and Soil Loss
Under the current production model we have to add more and more inputs in order to get the same amount of production. Even if you’re an organic producer, as you till more and more, you still see a continuing loss of the soil resource, and you may or may not produce nutrient-dense foods. We’ve also disrupted the water cycle and the ecosystem in the process.
The conventional paradigm and the conventional system is one that most producers wake up each day during the growing season wondering what needs killing that day. Are they going to kill a weed? Are they going to kill a pest? Are they going to apply fungicides? When they do this, it’s not only affecting the targeted species, it’s affecting the whole ecosystem. We have to start thinking of the production model as a whole.
Our Systems Approach
At Main Street Project we think of farming as a transformation of energy flows. In other words, farming is the transformation of raw materials and elements into food that makes life possible. The macro and micro biodiversity is an advantage, not a problem. This is the paradigm shift that creates solutions to managing weeds and pests, while increasing fertility.
Spreading straw mulch works to balance the nitrogen-carbon ratio in the soil allowing for richer soil microbiological systems to develop. This provides growing plants needed inputs and prepares the soil for more robust growth of ground cover (pictured above).
Gabe stated that we hear a lot of hype today about ‘sustainability’. Why do we want to sustain a degraded resource? We need to be thinking of ‘regeneration’ because that’s the key to the future of being able to have an ecologically healthy nation.
Under our systems design, chickens freely range under the annual and perennial crops allowing them to take refuge there on hot days. These crops also provide cover for the chickens making it difficult for flying predators to see and access them (pictured above and below).
The Future of Farming
So how do we regenerate these resources? The key lies in the native ecosystems where there is a tremendous amount of diversity. The future of farming incorporates the use of cover crops and a polyculture system that increases organic matter.
As you increase organic matter, you increase water-holding capacity. According to Gabe: “Healthy soils should look like cottage cheese—you need those pore spaces in it, you need the spaces for water infiltration—and it’s in those pore spaces where a lot of the soil biology lives.”
The future of farming and that of a healthy food system requires farmers to think in terms of systems and design. At Main Street Project, we’ve take an adaptive approach to designing an ecologically and biologically compatible production system. This includes alternative and intercropping systems that conserve, protect, and regenerate the natural resources, landscapes and the biodiversity.
For a more detailed look at our stacking enterprises please click here.
To learn more about how our regional, sustainable food system model aligns with a national set of shared food system principles click here.
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